In 2013 seven-year-old Wyatt Werner was out on a picnic with his family in the Peace Region. He was looking at rocks in a creek-bed, when one object caught his attention. He picked it up and realized how different it looked.
He showed his mother and grandpa, and they took it home. In time it was identified as a molar tooth of an immature mammoth by the palaeontologists of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre (PRPRC) in Tumbler Ridge. More recently Wyatt and his family decided that such an important part of our history deserved to be in a museum, and they donated it to the PRPRC, where it will be preserved, and exhibited in the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation’s Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
Wyatt’s name and the details of the discovery will be recorded in the institution’s collections. He is delighted that he will soon receive an exact replica of the tooth, which will be made by PRPRC staff. A 3D digital model will also be available on the PRPRC website.
Wyatt’s discovery and donation are part of a remarkable history in the Peace Region of kids and young adults discovering important palaeontological sites and specimens. This began in 2000 when two local boys discovered the first dinosaur trackway close to Tumbler Ridge. Some of the most impressive finds of the past fifteen years have likewise been made by kids, including numerous fish and marine reptile fossils, many of which have been new to science. This may be partly due to their being closer to the ground, partly to their innate curiosity, and perhaps to kids’ ability to discern interesting shapes better than adults.
The tooth is about the size of an adult’s fist and has a complete crown and root system. The grinding surface of the crown is short and flat with many vertical layers of alternating enamel and dentine. There are several roots, the longest of which is about 9 cm long. A piece of the tooth will be carbon-dated – depending on the result, it is not inconceivable that this mammoth was seen by early human inhabitants of our region.
Richard McCrea, Curator of Palaeontology at the PRPRC, commented: “This mammoth tooth is an important addition to our collections as it adds to the small, but growing number of fossil vertebrate specimens known from the Pleistocene of the Peace Region. There are many questions about our region during this time period, including the timing and extent of glaciation, the presence of ice-free corridors and refugia, the composition of the flora and fauna throughout this glacial period and the presence or absence of humans.”
In 2015 a 22,000 year old mammoth tusk from the region was donated to the PRPRC, and a 12,400 year old bison skull was repatriated to Tumbler Ridge from Simon Fraser University. The Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’k’wa) has yielded the best sequence of Pleistocene (ice-age) fauna and flora in Canada, as well as vitally important data on First Nations occupation of the area as much as 10,500 years ago, including the oldest known evidence of jewelry in North America.
The Peace Region is steadily fulfilling its potential as a treasure-chest of ice-age fossils, and Wyatt Werner’s discovery is an important part of the picture that is emerging. Anyone else discovering an item like this is encouraged to follow Wyatt’s excellent example, and to bring this to the attention of our palaeontologists, so that the finds can be formally studied and can contribute to our collective heritage.